The current Canaries boss has won over most of his initial doubters with a table-topping mix of attacking play and tsunami of goals. It’s not been perfect (recent first half torpor and a limp early Cup exit) but perched on top, life’s good. It’s Neil’s first management role so he has no skeleton-riddled former club record to compare with.
Though not a son of this county like luminaries such as Martin Brundle (petrol head), Sir John Mills (‘Ice Cold in Alex’), Sir James Dyson (vacuum wizard) or Horatio Nelson (no job description necessary), through playing, radio and coaching periods, Neil has spent considerably more time here than those four added together and is an honorary Norfolk man by any definition.
Felix Magath on the other hand is a different kettle of worms. Now back in the land of lederhosen, I suspect he won’t be heading back this way anytime soon. I for one would like to congratulate ‘The Cat’: firstly as a Norwich fan for helping take our nemesis team down to the Championship and secondly for introducing me to the healing powers of dairy products. How is it possible for such a revered and successful football manager back in his homeland to be reduced to general cheese-related derision while clearly failing to inspire his ‘boys’ to perform on the pitch? What makes a manager great at one club and terrible at another?
In Felix’s case, it may well have been the dreaded language barrier getting in the way. Listening to his after match chats with MOTD inquisitors, his English was ‘passable’ but it seemed clear that there was likely to be plenty of scope for misinterpretation in the changing room or training ground. Felix himself seems to have explained the mismatch as a failure on the players’ part to adapt to his ideas and philosophy whilst taking a sideswipe at former owner and bizarre statue erector Mohammed Al Fayed. To borrow from classic 60s sci-fi, Felix seemed a stranger in a strange land. Other recent alumni of that society include Pepe Mel and Dave Hockaday (although he can’t use the language excuse).
Of course, there are plenty of examples of highly successful foreign managers in England and I give them full respect – but let’s be honest, if your own club isn’t involved, it’s much more fun to see someone fail spectacularly. Just to reiterate that I’m making no xenophobic point, the same could be said of many a British manager, although none praised the power of cheese. Our own Mike Walker performed near miracles with the Canaries but never got close to being handed the keys of the blue half of Liverpool after winning just 6 out of 35 games.
Steve (‘is this a brolley I see before me’) McLaren was successful in Holland despite a lame attempt at the Dutch accent when interviewed. Clearly, actually learning their language was not an option for Steve – a failing amongst most British people when moving abroad. He then failed spectacularly in Germany (Magath levelling the score maybe) but is now doing a fine job at Derby.
Brian Clough is probably the most famous case of a highly successful English manager (at Derby), biting off more than he could chew at a particular club (Leeds) at a particular moment (30/7 – 12/9, 1974) in history. Brian bounced back with knobs on at Forest . It will be interesting to see if Felix pops up somewhere new and regains his credibility.
The now Italian run Leeds Utd have appointed one Darko Milaniĉ (no, me neither) to the top job – the first non UK/Irish man to take the helm at Elland Road. With his impressive record at Sturm Graz, Austria, it must have seemed the obvious choice!
Darko does speak English but I’m willing to lay down a fiver that if he manages to pass Cloughie’s 44 day record, he will be gone by Christmas – but he does have a marine engineering background to fall back on. From Cellino’s press quote on the appointment: “I don’t know (why I’ve chosen him). Coaches are like watermelons. You find out about them when you open them”, I’m pretty confident that my money is safe.
To book end things, Norwich could have taken a look abroad (and apparently did) when the clappers began to rain down in Chris Hughton’s direction. The fan pressure was for a Pochettino-type, who maybe didn’t speak English but might reinvent our style of play and give value for money on a Saturday afternoon.
Instead we went for one of our own and he’s doing a fine job so far with the entertainment factor ramped right up. Language barrier clearly won’t wash if it all goes pear shaped over the coming months. Unfamiliarity with English customs and traditions likewise is no excuse for Neil. While his honeymoon period is long gone, there’s no doubt that Neil will be afforded some slack that others may not have been.
I’m confident that with luck, minimal injuries and the roar of 26,500 faithful, the boys will stay firmly in contention, Delia and David won’t be considering a tour of Europe’s coaching scene anytime soon and like all good Canaries, Neil will suck seed. Meanwhile, Chris Hughton walks that rocky road to footballing redemption – Craven Cottage could even be his next stop.
I’ve got a touch of tendonitis after writing this – I’m off to the shops to buy some cheese.